Christmas past and Christmas present

Five years ago today, I had a miscarriage.

Jeff and I had been trying to conceive for almost 1 year, so when we found out that we were expecting, we were thrilled, but remained cautiously optimistic. Although we told two friends that had also been trying to get pregnant, we decided not to share our news with anyone else until we had confirmation that things were progressing well with the pregnancy.  

With each appointment that we had, things looked great with the baby.  It was still very early on but by 9 weeks into the pregnancy we got the ok from our doctor to tell our families.  The heartbeat was very strong and everything looked great.  “You have a 5% chance of anything going wrong at this point,” she told us.

So, with that assurance, we excitedly told our families on Christmas Day. Jeff’s sister Aimee was about 4 months pregnant at the time and that same day we received news that Jeff’s cousin was also expecting and we had almost the same due date in July 2012.

It felt great to tell everyone, and especially to share our good news on Christmas. My mother’s face lit up when we told her. She actually screamed and jumped up and down in the kitchen. It felt incredible to see so much joy in her eyes as they welled up with tears. It made me feel like there wasn’t a better gift we could have given her.

Sadly, within a few days of us sharing our news, we had to call each one of our family members to tell them that we lost the baby.

The day after Christmas, I started having pressure very low down in my belly and had the feeling like I needed to push. It didn’t really feel like cramping, but just like a sac laying heavy in the lowest part of my abdomen. I remember asking my mom if she ever felt that, and asking my sister in law the same. By the 3rd day of feeling this way, I called our OB, but she was away on vacation. It was the week between Christmas and New Years, so I would soon come to find out that our fertility doctor was also away.  I was looking for reassurance, but I knew in my heart what was about to happen.

I was at my parent’s house that day and later met Jeff in Queens at a friend’s house for dinner. By then, the pressure had become constant and I was uncomfortable. Upon using the bathroom, I noticed a strange discharge that was now leaking out of me. But I sat through that dinner, pretending to drink my wine, acting as normal as I possibly could. All the while, not being able to tell Jeff what was going on.

When we left, we received a text with a photo of our friends and their brand new baby girl. Gena had just given birth. I remember somehow finding joy for her in that moment, but fear and sadness for myself. I then broke down into tears and told Jeff what was going on. I was sobbing and he was trying to understand what I was saying. The rest of the night he tried to reassure me, “This is just part of the pregnancy, honey. Everything is fine with the baby.  This is just happening to help you prepare for difficult times once the baby arrives.”  

That night I woke up at about 3am with intense cramps. They would come in waves and I soon realized that these felt like mild contractions. The site of bright red blood confirmed what I already knew and at 6:30 the next morning we went to the fertility clinic. I didn’t know where else to go. We got there and they said “You are 10 weeks along and we do not monitor our patients after a few weeks of pregnancy.” I remember snapping back that I was having a miscarriage and I demanded to see a doctor.  

We started the sonogram and I went completely numb when I saw that there was no heartbeat. That vision of the life that was no longer viable is still so fresh in my mind. It just lay there, not moving, no longer really resembling a vibrant, growing baby in any way. I remember how kind the doctor was that morning.  I did not know her. When she saw that the baby was no longer with us she placed her hand on my knee and said “I am so sorry. I cannot find a heartbeat.” Up until that moment, Jeff didn’t believe that we had lost the baby. He was so sure that this was just a bump in road of what was going to continue as a normal pregnancy.

Jeff and I walked back to our car without talking. We drove home. He stayed home from work and made us some breakfast. I showered and tried to pull myself together. Jeff handed me my towel and fell into my arms. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry.

We called a couple of people to tell them what happened but at that point, we were mainly just trying to process what was happening to us and what to do next. We were in shock. How could we be celebrating with our families just days earlier and now feeling such sorrow?...such emptiness? We had literally just allowed ourselves to feel the joy of expecting and then it was all taken away from us in an instant. It just felt so cruel.    

I couldn’t stand the thought of walking around with this baby that was no longer living inside of me. I felt like I had to immediately have a D&C performed. The doctor at the fertility center said that she could perform a D&C the next day, but since we did not know her, we decided to go elsewhere.

We were able to get an appointment later that afternoon with a very reputable and recommended doctor in the city. I was told that there would not be any anesthesia used and that this was what was safest for me. I was very scared about this but I felt like I needed to move forward with the procedure right away.  

I was emotionally and now physically numb as we walked down Columbus Avenue in the frigid cold. We picked up a prescription for valium on the way down and I took one. When we arrived at the office we had to sign some papers acknowledging that we were having a D&C. My brother met us there and hugged me. He didn’t say much, but he held me the way I remember my protective big brother hugging me when I was frightened by something as a little girl. I felt secure to have these two masculine figures by my side but at the same time felt very alone in what I was feeling in my feminine body.  

We were called in by the doctor. Jeffrey came into the room with me and I lay down on the examination table. I was definitely feeling the effects of the valium at this point. I just felt like I had about three glasses of wine...relaxed, but very sad.  

They put some topical anesthetic on my cervix, but the procedure itself was very painful. To be honest, being awake and feeling my baby taken from me the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. The entire experience felt and looked medieval.  

I just tried to focus on Jeff, who was holding me the entire time. I so vividly remember how calming and how kind he was, saying “Thank you for going through all of this so that we can have our family. I love you so much.” and, “You are going to be ok.”

What followed were a series of phone calls to family and some close friends. Nobody really knew what to say. My mom rushed right over. She had experienced a miscarriage before I was born. She was 4 months pregnant at the time. When she first told me about her loss I was 12 or 13 years old and I remember saying that she must have been so sad. She said that it was a difficult time and that it was very sad, but that if it didn’t happen that I never would have come along.   

Hearing my mom share that with me again was very comforting. It helped me as I endured complications from the initial D&C over the next several weeks. I went on to need a second D&C, and I then had to take pills to induce contractions to help me pass what I could not seem to pass on my own. It was as if my body didn't want to let go of the baby. My heart certainly wasn’t ready to let go. I ultimately had to have surgery to remove “retained products of conception” from my uterus, so it wasn’t until mid-February-6 weeks after finding out that we had a miscarriage- that the ordeal was finally over.

I felt like the only thing that would make me feel better was if I got pregnant again right away. I guess that is why I chose to have the D&C immediately, but in hindsight, I wish I let myself grieve longer and process our loss while I still had our baby inside of me. I wish I honored that baby more while it was with me, especially since I later found out that I would not be able to carry our children. I wish I savored that moment, as painful as it was, and examined the beauty of my changing body. I wish I said goodbye to our baby before it was taken from me.

Five years later, we just celebrated Christmas with our families in Virginia and New York. While in Virginia, I watched our 2 and a half year old son, Garrison in awe of his 4 and a half year old cousin, Owen, admiring his every move, trying to be a big boy just like him. I couldn’t be happier today, but I couldn’t help but think of what it would have been like to have a 4 and a half year old child with us now.

On Christmas Eve in New York, Jeff and I beamed with pride as Garrison played a sheep in his first Christmas pageant! We were exhausted but stayed up past midnight on Christmas Eve assembling toys that Garrison would wake up to find the next morning; all things that I was only dreaming about the previous Christmases. Five years ago things didn’t feel so magical. There is still a sadness when I think back to that time, but there is also a beauty and a peace that I now find in remembering what was, what could have been and in seeing how far I have come. Perhaps that peace is the greatest gift of them all this year.  

 Garrison, picking out our Christmas Tree, is our Rainbow Baby. This term refers to a child born after miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss.

Garrison, picking out our Christmas Tree, is our Rainbow Baby. This term refers to a child born after miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss.